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What does exercise do to your brain?

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There are a myriad of reasons to train. You may want to get in shape, improve your fitness, enjoy the mental health benefits, or just be able to have a conversation while you run. It is well known that exercise can have a big impact on the body, but what does exercise do to your brain?

Choosing a run over a televised marathon can help keep your physical health, but scientists have found that a workout can give your brainpower a boost as well. Not only does exercise help you develop new brain cells, it can also put you in a good mood, which can have positive effects on physical and mental health. Here’s what goes on in your brain when you exercise and how it can benefit you.

What Is Really Going On In Your Brain When You Work Out?

Exercise may provide a way to maintain brain function, according to a study in the Trends from the journal Neuroscience. Research shows that your session on the track or on the treadmill increases molecules in your brain that facilitate learning and protect against cognitive decline. Psychologist and mental play coach, Dr. Delice Coffey, adds that “exercise helps new brain cells grow. It helps brain plasticity by stimulating the development of new connections between cells and cortical areas. of the brain.”

The increase in these molecules, known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), occurs in the hippocampus, which is the center of memory formation and learning. BDNF is an overloaded protein that helps keep brain circuits intact. Those with low levels of BDNF can suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or depression.

According to a study published in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, the reason that people may start to suffer from memory impairment or dementia as they age is that the hippocampus will naturally begin to shrink with it. age. However, a study from the University of British Columbia found that cardiac pumping exercises increase the size of the hippocampus; However, you must be prepared to sweat because balance or resistance exercises do not have the same effect.

Exercise also helps keep your brain fueled. “Exercise helps deliver oxygen to the brain, which is essential for our survival. By increasing the heart rate through exercise, it pumps vital oxygen that the brain needs,” said Dr. Coffey.

When you swap out the sofa for a 5K run, you also make this process more efficient. “Exercise helps the heart beat faster by pumping more blood with each beat. When your heart beats fast during exercise, it circulates more blood throughout the body,” said Dr. Coffey. Healthy cardio output keeps your blood pressure at the levels needed to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your brain and other vital organs.

What does exercise do for your brain?  Image of a woman resting on a walk

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Which exercise is best for the brain?

If you want to increase your brainpower, you have to be prepared to sweat. Dr Coffey said the most beneficial exercises for the brain are aerobic style workouts. “Studies show that swimming and running seem to be the best for brain health,” Coffey said. “However, weight lifting can also increase heart rate, which can also benefit brain health.”

What does exercise do to your brain?  Image of two women taking a break after a workout

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can Exercise Improve Your Mood?

Whether or not you reach what is known as the “runner’s high,” exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. A study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology found that the antidepressant effect of running is due to increased cell growth in the hippocampus.

Interestingly, if you train in a group, a study published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Psychology found that the brain releases the natural endogenous opioid system for pain relief to encourage social closeness. A good example of this on a daily basis would be a rowing team that finds the strength to move forward until the end of a race.

Exercise doesn’t just speed up your heart rate, help you sleep better and reduce stress, it also improves your diet. A study from the International Journal of Obesity found in 2019 that the more vigorously a person exercises, the more they begin to choose healthier foods. In a study of 2,680 sedentary adults, they found that those who started exercising were more likely to choose nutritious foods, such as lean meats, fruits, and nuts, and less likely to choose fried foods. sodas and snacks. An additional study published in the journal Appetite found that intense exercise even stimulates hormones that regulate appetite.

So whether you like the idea of ​​going for a run or not, obviously cardiac training is a good idea. If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got a guide on how to get in shape to get started.


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